A Christian charity is telling holidaymakers not to fear after reports that leprosy is on the rise in the US and may already be endemic in Florida.
A report published in the US-based Emerging Infectious Diseases journal reported 159 new cases of leprosy in the US in 2020. Nearly a fifth of reported cases were in Florida, a state that is popular with holidaymakers because of its many theme parks and beaches.
The findings have prompted the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to warn holidaymakers that “travel to this area, even in the absence of other risk factors, should prompt consideration of leprosy in the appropriate clinical context”.
Chief Executive of The Leprosy Mission, Peter Waddup, has sought to reassure holidaymakers.
“While I appreciate this week’s news could cause worry for some, it’s a really great opportunity for people to understand leprosy,” he said.
“Leprosy is a disease of poverty that continues to destroy lives across Asia, Africa and South America. It is a disease that thrives where there is malnutrition, overcrowding and poor sanitation.
“To put the figures into context, there were 159 cases of leprosy found and cured in the US in 2020 compared with 65,147 in India alone.”
He went on to say that leprosy is “only mildly infectious” and that over 95 per cent of people are naturally immune.
Leprosy Mission estimates that it would take a person living in extreme poverty with a leprosy sufferer for six months to become infected.
“It is important for holidaymakers to Florida, or anywhere in the world for that matter, to see the whole picture when it comes to leprosy. They should certainly not let it spoil plans for a happy time,” he continued.
According to Leprosy Mission, leprosy has been completely curable since the 1980s using multidrug therapy. However, Waddup raised concerns that some people returning to the UK with leprosy are not being treated quickly enough.
“Over the past few years there have been a handful of new leprosy cases diagnosed in the UK where people have become infected overseas,” he said.
“Worryingly it has taken on average more than two years for these few individuals to be cured of leprosy after first flagging symptoms to their GP.”
He said it was important that new cases are prescribed multidrug therapy “at the earliest stage” so that they can be “spared a life of disability by a prompt diagnosis and treatment”.
“Leprosy is likely to first present as a discoloured patch of skin which can be numb to touch. It is our mission to find and cure everyone of leprosy at this early stage, before it goes on to devastate lives,” he said.
“Leprosy shouldn’t exist in the 21st century. It is tragically ignorance, a lack of healthcare and prejudice that see it blight the world’s poorest communities today.”